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Gluten-free food is an exploding sector of the grocery industry. It now accounts for more than $10 billion in annual sales in the United States, largely built on ensuring there is no flour in a product.

For some, gluten-free food protects them from health complications related to Celiac disease (though Mayo Clinic estimates less than 2 million Americans actually have the disease). For others, gluten-free food is simply part of healthy eating. You can find all sorts of gluten-free products: pasta, bread, beer, cakes, and even Girl Scout Cookies.

Helpful as it may be, whether it’s disease or just diets, to find gluten-free, the opposite is true with preaching. Charles Spurgeon, the storied nineteenth-century British pastor (and personality), known for his quips about Christ-centered preaching, said this:

The motto of all true servants of God must be, “We preach Christ; and him crucified.” A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.

In Christian preaching, it’s not gluten that is dangerous, but gluten-free. For Spurgeon, just as it would be absurd to make bread without flour, it is unthinkable to preach a sermon without Christ.

The gluten of the gospel must be kneaded into every Christian sermon, despite the many ways pastors are drawn to preach gluten-free today. Here are three of them to beware. If we bypass Christ in any of these aspects of the sermon, we are removing the gluten of the gospel from our text.

1) Gluten-Free Exposition

First, there is the danger of gluten-free exposition that bypasses Christ as it explains the meaning of the biblical text. Often this occurs in sermons on the Old Testament that faithfully exegete the text in its immediate, restricted context but fail to see the messianic markers or situate it in its larger Christ-conscious context. But it also happens far too often in New Testament preaching when the sermon mentions Jesus, or appeals to his example, without connecting its meaning to his gracious work for us in his life, death, and resurrection.

The key to gluten-filled exposition is to culminate the message in the person and work of Jesus. This doesn’t mean forcing yourself to find Christ where he isn’t in the text. Instead, it means showing our people the connection points to Jesus that the Spirit has laid in every section of the Scriptures, if we have eyes to see them. It means helping our churches see that the Bible as a whole first speaks a word about Christ before it becomes a word about us. Gluten-free exposition leads to malnourished Christians. Instead, we want to feed our people with Jesus from every text.

2) Gluten-Free Illustration

Second is the danger of gluten-free illustration. Gluten-free illustration loses sight of Christ as it seeks to illuminate the meaning of the biblical text. When a sermon illustration takes the eyes of the audience off of the glory of Christ, rather than working toward increasing their focus on him, it is diminishing the gluten of the gospel in the sermon. How often do our sermon illustrations cloud the connections to Christ in the passage, rather than clarify it?

The key to gluten-filled illustration is to ensure that the point of the juicy anecdote we’re so eager to tell goes toward Christ rather than away from him. Christ-centered illustrations captivate the audience in order to show them some aspect of God’s sovereignty, our sin, Christ’s redemption, or his eternal consummation. It’s moving people to Jesus, rather than merely entertaining. What good is gluten-filled exposition if your sermon illustrations bypass the cross on the way to application? Gluten-free illustrations lead to starving soldiers. Instead, we must illustrate Christ from every text.

3) Gluten-Free Application

Third is the danger of gluten-free application. Gluten-free application mutes or bypasses Christ as it applies the meaning of the biblical text to the hearers. Christ-less application comes in many varieties: self help, life tips, moralism, and more. In every case, the preacher highlights what the text means for the audience without touching on what it means in relation to Jesus. It envisions biblical principles for Christians without helping them see them through the lens of the gospel.

The key to gluten-filled application is to show your people how the passage applies not only to their own lives, but also to Jesus. It highlights the Christ-centered, kingdom-focused, Spirit-driven way that the text is calling them to live. Unless our preaching applies the passage in light of our faith-union with the victorious Christ, it removes the gluten of the gospel from the sermon.

Feed the People True Bread

Spurgeon also spoke elsewhere about the dangers of gluten-free preaching:

Leave Christ out of the preaching and you shall do nothing. Only advertise it all over London, Mr. Baker, that you are making bread without flour; put it in every paper, “Bread without flour” and you may soon shut up your shop, for your customers will hurry off to other tradesmen. . . . A sermon without Christ as its beginning, middle, and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution.

Doubtless, the gluten-free aisles in our grocery stores today would have confounded Spurgeon, who had no category for bread without flour. But he would be even more scandalized at the gluten-free preaching in our pulpits. There is no true preaching without Christ.

“Man does not live by bread alone,” said the Savior, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). To truly feed our starving people, we must ensure that the gluten of the gospel comes to bear on every aspect of the sermon.

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Talk about it...

Val Turner

commented on Oct 30, 2015

I know you're just trying to be funny but as a coeliac who gets extremely ill from gluten I find this tasteless (no pun intended). I was even considering offering a talk to Britain's Greenbelt Festival entitled "When bread and wine are poison" - the whole bread idea is something I seriously struggle with - please can we find more inclusive analogies!? Thanks Val

Janis Hutchinson

commented on Oct 30, 2015

I am also a coeliac but found the analogy in his article extremely fascinating. I found no offense to b e taken in it.

Rudolph Bescherer Jr

commented on Oct 30, 2015

I agree completely with Jan and Val. For those of us who suffer serious medical problems related to consumption of any gluten-containing product, there was a time when communion was not the celebration that it should be, but a part of services that I would dread. Would I become ill this week? More often than not, the answer was yes. So I had stopped receiving communion for a period of time. Spiritually speaking, the analogy you have used in this article is poisonous. You use the term gluten-free to mean "without substance", which is absolutely not what it means. Furthermore, it ingrains into clergy who may not know much about this illness that "gluten-free communion wafers" are evil. This may be the position of some denominations of Christianity, but it is driving away a good number of people from the faith. Why participate in services when you are actively discriminated against in the part of the service that is supposed to bring everyone in the congregation together?

Jan Brooks

commented on Oct 30, 2015

What I find so offensive about the sermon is the obvious fact that he has no idea what gluten even is, and then makes the exact opposite of his point in the way he uses it to write his sermon. First, not all flour is gluten. Many flours exist that do not contain gluten of any kind and make excellent breads for us to use. Second, if his point is to keep the harmful things from our sermons and preaching, then we want to keep the harmful gluten out of it. AS a person with celiac disease and know full well how harmful gluten is to my health, I would hope this man would take the time to actually educate himself about what something is before he misuses it in a sermon. I eat gluten-free bread made from flour all the time. But at least they don't contain the harmful gluten proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. I find this sermon to be more harmful to my spiritual health, and the spiritual health of others, than the gluten will ever be to my physical health.

Buddy Sipe

commented on Oct 31, 2015

Well, here we go again, those who are offended are so because they know the heart of the originator. You guys missed his point. His main point was to not present a gospel absent of Jesus. That is all he was saying. I plan to use the illustration with my congregation. Thank you Phillip, write on but be careful in making a comparison of people who have vision distortions to those who have blinders which does not allow them to focus on Jesus.

Jan Brooks

commented on Nov 2, 2015

You assume I was offended by the author's heart. No, I was offended by his ignorance into what gluten truly is. He "assumes" that flour = gluten, and that is not true. Many flours not made from wheat, barley, or rye can be used to make bread. But those three grains are toxic to those with celiac disease. While I applaud what he is trying to say, the example he used is highly uneducated and researched. Do your congregation a favor, as I strive to do with mine for illustrations that I use, research the information before you use it. Make sure the point you are trying to make is the one you are really making, instead of merely showing your ignorance and insensitivity (intended or not) to something that is as poisonous to us as peanut butter is to someone with a serious peanut allergy.

Buddy Sipe

commented on Oct 31, 2015

My comment should have read "they DO NOT know...." Sorry, guess my vision was distorted.

Stephen Johnson

commented on Nov 3, 2015

While I don't find the gluten analogy offensive, I do find it distracting. As a father and husband in a gluten-free family, the first three paragraphs were enough to make me disengage. Yes, we need Christ in sermons. That is nothing like whether people can eat gluten without getting sick or not. The point is not that Phillip Bethancourt is a bad person or we misread his heart. The point is that the analogy detracts from his point for a lot of people, so he probably should find something different. If enough people tell him its insensitive, then its insensitive.

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